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Mary Beard And Rory Stewart On Power And Politics From the Caesars to Sunak

A conversation between two of the UK’s most compelling and insightful thinkers

Who gets to win power and how do they keep it – and lose it? Who is excluded from power? Does power always corrupt or are there examples of leaders who have maintained their integrity while in authority? How does the nature of power vary across different times and cultures? These are the questions that Mary Beard and Rory Stewart addressed when they came to Intelligence Squared on in November 2023. 

Beard, Britain’s best known classicist, has won legions of fans through her enthusiasm for the ancient world and her exploration of our cultural assumptions about powerful women, as depicted in her bestseller Women & Power. In her new book Emperor of Rome, she shines her spotlight on the men who ruled the Roman Empire. Rather than running through the usual chronology – the assassinated Julius Caesar, the monster Nero, the philosopher Marcus Aurelius – she asks bigger questions: What power did the emperors actually have? Were they all control freaks and bloodthirsty tyrants? What was life like for those living under their rule?  

Stewart has seen the workings of power up close – and he has yielded it. Over the course of a decade from 2010, he went from being a backbench MP, though several ministerial positions, to standing for prime minister – before being sacked from a Conservative Party that he had come to barely recognise. In his new memoir Politics on the Edge he reveals how he bore witness to cronyism and incompetence, which he believes laid the foundations for our current political and economic chaos. Now, well away from the political arena, he regularly shares his insights into current affairs as co-host of the UK’s leading political podcast The Rest Is Politics. 


Presented in partnership with Penguin

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Advance praise for Rory Stewart’s Politics On the Edge: A Memoir from Within

‘One of the most devastating insider accounts of Westminster I have ever read. An instant classic of political memoir.’ – Marina Hyde

‘At last a politician who can write. Opinionated, lucid and thought-provoking.’ – Sebastian Faulks

‘Any combination of insight, humanity, self-awareness and style in a political memoir is valuable. To achieve them all, as Rory Stewart has done, is exceptional.’ – Rafael Behr, author of Politics: A Survivor’s Guide 

Praise for Mary Beard

‘An accomplished scholar and lively debunker…Beard informs and entertains without ever patronising her readers. What she touches turns to light.’ ― The Independent

‘Mary Beard has pulled off that rare trick of becoming a don with a high media profile who hasn’t sold out, who is absolutely respected by the academy for her scholarship … what she says is always powerful and interesting.’ ― The Guardian



Mary Beard

Classicist, author and broadcaster, whose new book is Emperor of Rome: Ruling the Ancient Roman World

One of the most original and best-known classicists working today. She was Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge until 2022, is a fellow of Newnham College, and the Classics editor of the TLS. She is a fellow of the British Academy and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her books include the Wolfson Prize-winning Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (2008), the best-selling SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015) and Women & Power: A Manifesto (2017). She has written and presented several television documentaries, including ‘Meet the Romans’ and ‘Forbidden Art’.  Her new book is Emperor of Rome: Ruling the Ancient Roman World.

Rory Stewart

Former Conservative government minister, whose new book is Politics On the Edge: A Memoir from Within

Former UK Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development, and before that Prisons Minister, Minister for Africa, Minister for Development, Environment Minister and Chair of the Defence Committee. He ran against Boris Johnson for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2019. Earlier in his career he was briefly in the British Army, before serving as a diplomat in Indonesia, the Balkans and Iraq, establishing and running a charity in Afghanistan, and holding a chair at Harvard University. His 21-month 6,000-mile walk across Asia, including Afghanistan, is recorded in his New York Times bestseller, The Places in Between. His other books include Occupational Hazards, and The Marches. His new book is Politics On the Edge: A Memoir from Within. Stewart is now the president of the non-profit organisation GiveDirectly, a visiting fellow at Yale's Jackson School and the co-host with Alastair Campbell of the UK's leading podcast The Rest Is Politics.